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A bridge too far for Ballaghaderreen

Sean Rice
Sean Rice

A bridge too far for Ballagh’

BALLAGHADERREEN’S great season ended rather limply in the Connacht final on Sunday against a far superior St Brigid’s side. And their defeat can’t be attributed entirely to the absence of their dependable forward Andy Hanley who skipped to America during the week to take up a job that apparently had been left open for him for some time.
When a man’s livelihood is at stake no blame can be attributed to him for grabbing the opportunity, and it must have been difficult for Hanley to be listening in on Sunday while his team-mates were taken apart in the second half at McHale Park.
The centre forward can rest assured, however, that his presence would not have changed the result, for despite a brave first-half performance, Ballagh’ were out-gunned after the break by the more astute and experienced Roscommon champions.
They did ask some questions of Brigid’s in that first hard-hitting half. But they were never afterwards allowed reach the standard of their performance in the semi-final, suffocated by the direct and fast-moving play of their opponents.
Nor will it be a day to remember for their captain Stephen Drake. Normally the anchor of their defence, and the man whose performances spawned many a victory, the corner back was not himself on this occasion.
On at least four successive occasions, Drake’s passes were intercepted, the final one leading to Brigid’s goal, the score that finally broke the back on the challenge of his colleagues. Maybe they would have won anyhow, but the Ballagh’ captain’s rare lapses of concentration made it easier for the Roscommon men.
Nor, despite the solid performance of James Kilcullen did Ballagh’ have the control at midfield that they enjoyed in the semi-final. Although he tried hard, Barry Kelly was unable to provide the assistance Kilcullen needed to compensate for an anaemic forward line.
Barry Regan did all that could be asked of him up front but Ballagh’ had no Ian Kilbride at midfield, or a Senan Kilbride or a Frankie Dolan up front. And in the end that was the real difference.
Hopefully, they will learn from it and come back a stronger and more experienced outfit.

Castlebar U-21s net their hat-trick
COACH Tommy O’Malley guided Castlebar to their third county u21 title in a row, defeating Ballintubber in the final at Ballina on Saturday. They thus become only the second club in the county to achieve three back-to-back titles in the grade.
Such success has put the club’s senior side to shame. Having failed to win a county senior title since 1993 it is time heads were knocked together to properly plan translating the fantastic achievement of the club’s Bord  na nÓg into long-sought triumph at senior level.

Winter break begins for column after long season
AS the players unwind for the season, before commencing to fulfill the pledge they made after the All-Ireland final to bell the cat next year, this column also slips into its winter slumber unconvinced as yet that the cat can be caught.
This was the year to have done it, but another gallant effort fell short, and the journey next year is strewn with so many obstacles that optimism is finding it difficult to survive.
That’s a debate for another day, however. All we want now is to submit to the clutches of winter and before we go to recall a few of the best moments of the season while they are still fresh in the memory.
The frisson of victory over the All-Ireland champions in the semi-final was the highlight. All through the campaign Dublin had failed to recapture the form that propelled them to the title last year.
But feeding on the confidence, if not the commitment, which the All-Ireland had generated they had still managed to reach the semi-final. Against enigmatic Mayo another final at least was not improbable . . . until they came face to face with the reality of Mayo¹s greater passion.
The championship trail of the Connacht champions had left a few questions hanging in the air. Leitrim, as ever, felt the unkind lash of their power in the provincial semi-final, but Sligo took them to the wire in the final and Mayo were none too convincing in their two-point win.
That mediocre passage to the final stages was no certainty that Mayo would emulate James Horan’s achievement in reaching the semi-final the previous year.
In the quarter-final Down, however, were unable to repeat their league win earlier in the season over Mayo, but in recording a twelve-point trashing of the Mourne men at Croke Park they were still unable to convince the cognoscenti that they were a growing force.
The loss of captain Andy Moran marred our enjoyment of that triumph and sapped somewhat our prospects for the semi-final. But the Dubs failed to reproduce the panache that attracted Sam the previous year. Nor for all their intimidation could their followers on Hill 16 unnerve Cillian O’Connor’s brilliant free-kicking. In the face of their taunts the young man’s coolness won out . . . stunned the Hill in fact, and was one of the features of the game.
Overall this was one of Mayo’s more mature performances. For once all the separate elements blended. The players took on responsibility in finding their own solutions to changing situations. The manager galvanised this confidence with astute substitutions. There was coolness on the sideline. Leadership, so often the missing constituent, flowered.
It was a temporary phenomenon, for it unravelled a bit in the final, despite pre-match emphasis on the need to keep a lid on high expectations. But it did demonstrate what can be achieved when the mood is right and the wheels are turning in unison.
Goodness knows when again we will find a championship win so perfectly wrought. Almost certainly an All-Ireland win will elude us until at least a Liam McHale is discovered; someone big and imposing and supple at the heart of the attack, someone to complement the talent around him and to provide finishing power.
Just now the players are enjoying the calm that comes before the storm of leagues and championship recommences. Hopefully their enthusiasm will be renewed during the break, and that they will recapture the form to brighten a new horizon in the months ahead.
In the meantime keep ‘er lit.

McGarrity hangs up Mayo jersey
THE decision of Ronan McGarrity to retire from inter-county football leaves another fine midfielder to end a career with dreams unfulfilled.
The Ballina man was finding it difficult to reach the standards of midfield play which he himself had set in his younger days when he was acclaimed among the best in the country. And he would not have been satisfied with contributions anything less than being able to follow those performances.
He is recorded as having made 53 appearances since making his debut for the county in a league match in 2004, and in most of those his majestic fielding provided a platform for many a famous Mayo victory.
His intuitive positional sense was also key to many a victory. Basketball experience had trained the Ballina bookmaker to regularly assume wing positions where he was ever available for the relief of pressure situations in defence and at the same time a perfect conduit for creating and taking scores.
Although he continued to play after bravely fighting serious illness, McGarrity’s old form never returned, but he has still enough in the tank to be a serious player for Ballina for some time to come.

Just a thought …
AS the column comes to a close for the season, may I wish all of you, readers, at home and abroad, a happy Christmas and a new year that will bring you contentment and prosperity.